- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

“The Green Butchers,” a macabre little monstrosity from Danish filmmaker Anders Thomas Jensen, aspires to be inclusive about shades of green. The color, the state of inexperience and the state of revulsion all have a certain queasy relevance.

The principal characters are a contrasting set of psychopaths: slight, seething Svend (Mads Mikkelsen) and rangy, glowering Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). They start up a rival butcher shop after quitting their regular employer, Holger, and come to rely on cuts of human flesh from opening day to fadeout, which anticipates open-ended profitability in their little town, where the only business establishments appear to be the two butcher shops.

During the sick comedy vogue of the late 1950s and early 1960s this particular cannibalism pretext might have sufficed for an attention-getting deadpan short in the 20-30 minute range. At this late date, Mr. Jensen is flogging simultaneously stale and short-winded material.

A news item about 220 Danes vanishing without a trace every year appears to be the impetus for Mr. Jensen’s screenplay, which doesn’t advance much beyond a parlor game starting point. It might be fun to surmise, “What if those missing folks were zombie victims or merchandisable sides of beef?” Sustaining the grisly gag for feature length is a tougher proposition.

Svend is the malcontent who gets the homicide rolling and decides on such refinements as a green motif for the shop. Bjarne seems a potential stumbling block until ways are found to compromise his slow-moving reluctance to go into business, let alone literally blood-chilling business. He turns out to have a twin named Egil who is lingering in a coma. Pulling the plug will yield an inheritance sufficient to invest in the shop. The plug gets pulled, but Egil then springs back to life and becomes an indestructible running gag for the duration.

The first victim is inadvertent: an electrician working on the wiring beneath the meat locker is accidentally entombed for the night by Svend. To spite Holger, he sells him fillets hacked from a thigh of the frozen workman. Purportedly, they prove so tasty that popular demand makes further victims inevitable.

The care with which the concept is worked out can be gauged by the fact that Holger compels a health department inspection, but the team seems to miss the unfinished sides of men and women we’ve seen hanging in shadowy parts of the locker. Why not just cover your tracks by skipping the inspection?

There’s one absurdly effective touch. Futile suspicions are aroused by an elderly diner, who detects a strange aftertaste in a tainted steak. But he’s a special case. Years ago he had to save his life by resorting to cannibalism while stranded in the wreckage of a mountainside plane crash. When he reflects, “It tastes like Grethe,” he’s alluding to the sweetheart who failed to survive the calamity.

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TITLE: “The Green Butchers”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category; frequent profanity and systematic morbid content)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen. Cinematography by Sebastian Blenkov. Production design by Mia Stensgaard. Music by Jeppe Kaas. In Danish with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes

WEB SITE: www.newmarketfilms.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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